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Explosion Hits Aleppo; Syrian Crackdown Continues

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows rescue teams inspecting the blast scene in Aleppo March 18, 2012.
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows rescue teams inspecting the blast scene in Aleppo March 18, 2012.

A car bomb struck near a Syrian government security building in the northern city of Aleppo Sunday, while a harsh military crackdown prevented opposition rallies marking one year since the first nationwide protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria's state news agency said terrorists were behind the Aleppo explosion that killed two people and wounded 30 more. It was the second attack in two days on government strongholds.

Twin blasts minutes apart in the capital, Damascus, killed 27 people and wounded more than 100 on Saturday. No one has claimed responsibility for either of the attacks. the The Syrian government and opposition groups blame each other.

Large-scale bombings near government security buildings in Damascus and Aleppo have added a new element to the anti-government revolt. After other similar attacks, U.S. officials suggested al-Qaida militants may be joining the fray.

Aleppo and Damascus are both seen as having high levels of support for Mr. Assad.

Also Sunday, several hundred opposition activists attempted to gather in central Damascus for a rare march marking the first anniversary of nationwide protests demanding greater political freedoms. Syrian security forces broke up the rally and detained several prominent opposition figures, including Mohammed Sayid Rasas and Fayiz Sara.

Activists said government troops also carried out operations to block protests in the opposition hubs of Idlib, Deir Al-Zour and Daraa. They said rebels in Daraa blew up a bridge to prevent the military from bringing reinforcements to the area.

Aid groups have limited access to Syria, but a group of technical experts was recently allowed into the country to evaluate humanitarian needs among the civilian population. Staff from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the United Nations joined Syrian government officials on a tour of 15 cities.

In parallel with the mission, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, left for Moscow Sunday to ask Russia to help persuade Damascus to let more humanitarian aid into the country.

Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who met Mr. Assad in Damascus last week, also ordered a team of experts to Syria to discuss a possible cease-fire and international monitoring mission.

Annan's team will head to Damascus from New York and Geneva on Monday.

The United Nations says at least 8,000 people have been killed in the Assad government's violent crackdown on the revolt, which began with peaceful protests and became increasingly militarized as army defectors attacked pro-Assad troops who assaulted civilians.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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